Weekly Neuroscience Update

FASD impacts brain development throughout childhood and adolescence not just at birth

Highlighted areas are some of the white matter tracts the research group studied. Credit: U of A

Medical researchers at the University of Alberta recently published findings showing that brain development is delayed throughout childhood and adolescence for people born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Whenever we have to acquire new knowledge under stress, the brain deploys unconscious rather than conscious learning processes. Neuroscientists at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have discovered that this switch from conscious to unconscious learning systems is triggered by the intact function of mineralocorticoid receptors.

Researchers have reverse-engineered the outlines of a disrupted prenatal gene network in schizophrenia, by tracing spontaneous mutations to where and when they likely cause damage in the brain. Some people with the brain disorder may suffer from impaired birth of new neurons, or neurogenesis, in the front of their brain during prenatal development, suggests the study.

Autism is marked by several core features — impairments in social functioning, difficulty communicating, and a restriction of interests. Though researchers have attempted to pinpoint factors that might account for all three of these characteristics, the underlying causes are still unclear. Now, a new study suggests that two key attentional abilities — moving attention fluidly and orienting to social information — can be checked off the list, as neither seems to account for the diversity of symptoms we find in people with autism.

Anemia, or low levels of red blood cells, may increase the risk of dementia, according to a study published in the July 31, 2013, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology

Physicists and neuroscientists from The University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham have unlocked one of the mysteries of the human brain, thanks to new research using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). The work will enable neuroscientists to map a kind of brain function that up to now could not be studied, allowing a more accurate exploration of how both healthy and diseased brains work.

Your Brain On Buzz. How Do Ideas Spread On The Internet?

Brain regions TPJ and DMPFC (Click for description) Psychologists report for the first time that the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) brain regions are associated with the successful spread of ideas, often called 'buzz.'

Psychologists report for the first time that the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) brain regions are associated with the successful spread of ideas, often called ‘buzz.’

How do ideas spread? What messages will go viral on social media, and can this be predicted?

UCLA psychologists have taken a significant step toward answering these questions, identifying for the first time the brain regionsassociated with the successful spread of ideas, often called “buzz.”

The research has a broad range of implications, the study authors say, and could lead to more effective public health campaigns, more persuasive advertisements and better ways for teachers to communicate with students.

“Our study suggests that people are regularly attuned to how the things they’re seeing will be useful and interesting, not just to themselves but to other people,” said the study’s senior author, Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and author of the forthcoming book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect.”

We always seem to be on the lookout for who else will find this helpful, amusing or interesting, and our brain data are showing evidence of that. At the first encounter with information, people are already using the brain network involved in thinking about how this can be interesting to other people. We’re wired to want to share information with other people. I think that is a profound statement about the social nature of our minds.

The study findings are published in the online edition of the journal Psychological Science, with print publication to follow later this summer.
More information on the study can be found on the UCLA website.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

A new study shows that sleeping after processing new information is most effective. Titled “Memory for Semantically Related and Unrelated Declarative Information: The Benefit of Sleep, the Cost of Wake,” the study was published March 22 in PLOSOne.

Snorting, gasping, or short interruptions in breathing during sleep (sleep apnea) may be linked to depression symptoms, new research shows.

Like the mute button on the TV remote control, our brains filter out unwanted noise so we can focus on what we’re listening to. But when it comes to following our own speech, a new brain study from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that instead of one homogenous mute button, we have a network of volume settings that can selectively silence and amplify the sounds we make and hear.

Just as the familiar sugar in food can be bad for the teeth and waistline, another sugar has been implicated as a health menace and blocking its action may have benefits that include improving long-term memory in older people and treating cancer. Progress toward finding such a blocker for the sugar — with the appropriately malicious-sounding name “oh-glick-nack” — was the topic of a report at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.

A hidden and never before recognized layer of information in the genetic code has been uncovered by a team of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) thanks to a technique developed at UCSF called ribosome profiling, which enables the measurement of gene activity inside living cells — including the speed with which proteins are made.

Weekly Neuroscience Research Update

Several specific regions of our brains are activated in a two-part process when we are exposed to deceptive advertising, according to new research conducted by a North Carolina State University professor. The work opens the door to further research that could help us understand how brain injury and aging may affect our susceptibility to fraud or misleading marketing.

We make our eye movements earlier or later in order to coordinate with movements of our arms, New York University neuroscientists have found. Their study, which appears in the journal Neuron, points to a mechanism in the brain that allows for this coordination and may have implications for rehabilitation and prosthetics.

The brain has a remarkable ability to learn new cognitive tasks while maintaining previously acquired knowledge about various functions necessary for everyday life. But exactly how new information is incorporated into brain systems that control cognitive functions has remained a mystery. A study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and the McGovern Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows how new information is encoded in neurons of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved in planning, decision making, working memory and learning.

A team of academic researchers has identified the intracellular mechanisms regulated by vitamin D3 that may help the body clear the brain of amyloid beta, the main component of plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Opening the door to the development of thought-controlled prosthetic devices to help people with spinal cord injuries, amputations and other impairments, neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown in Portugal have demonstrated that the brain is more flexible and trainable than previously thought.

Emotion-sensing computer software that models and responds to students’ cognitive and emotional states – including frustration and boredom – has been developed by University of Notre Dame Assistant Professor of Psychology Sidney D’Mello and colleagues from the University of Memphis and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Weekly Neuroscience News

Scientists identify link between size of brain region and conformity.

Although there are several drugs and experimental conditions that can block cognitive function and impair learning and memory, researchers have recently shown that some drugs can actually improve cognitive function. The new multi-national study, published in the 21 February issue of the open-access journal PLoS Biology, reveals that these findings may implicate scientists’ understanding of cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

New connections between brain cells emerge in clusters in the brain according to a study published in Nature on February 19 (advance online publication). Led by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the study reveals details of how brain circuits are rewired during the formation of new motor memories.

A new study shows that depression is linked to hyperconnectivity of brain regions.

A study in the February issue of Neurosurgery reveals that deep brain stimulation (DBS), commonly used to treat individuals with movement disorders or chronic pain, also affects respiratory function.

Neuroscience News

Is Angry Birds keeping your brain healthy?

A new study from the Archives of Neurology says playing brain stimulating games can improve your memory and delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study suggests hearing metaphors can activate brain regions involved in sensory experience.

Whether you are an athlete, a musician or a stroke patient learning to walk again, practice can make perfect, but more practice may make you more efficient, according to a surprising new University of Colorado Boulder study.

Researchers have found a way to study how our brains assess the behavior – and likely future actions – of others during competitive social interactions. Their study, described in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to use a computational approach to tease out differing patterns of brain activity during these interactions, the researchers report.

A molecular path from our body’s internal clock to cells controlling rest and activity have been revealed.

A new study looks at how our brain processes visual information to prevent collisions.

Can Brain Scans of Young Children Predict Reading Problems?  Brain scientists are studying whether they can predict which young children may struggle with reading, in order to provide early help.

Virtual therapists being developed to treat depression. Scientists at a U.S. university are developing new technologies to treat depression and other disorders — including a mood-detecting smart phone that will call to check up on you.

A new study shows how to boost the power of pain relief without drugs.

Neuroscience could change the face of warfare. Soldiers could have their minds plugged directly into weapons systems, undergo brain scans during recruitment and take courses of neural stimulation to boost their learning, if the armed forces embrace the latest developments in neuroscience to hone the performance of their troops

Brain activity differs when one plays against others. Researchers have found a way to study how our brains assess the behavior – and likely future actions – of others during competitive social interactions. Their study, described in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to use a computational approach to tease out differing patterns of brain activity during these interactions, the researchers report.

Reporting in PLoS Biology, researchers write that they were able to correlate words a person was hearing to specific electrical activity in the brain. Neuroscientist Robert Knight, a co-author of the study, discusses future applications of this research and concerns that it amounts to mental wiretapping.

Brains may be wired for addiction.  Abnormalities in the brain may make some people more likely to become drug addicts, according to scientists at the University of Cambridge.

Patients’ Brains May Adapt to ADHD Medication. New research reveals how the brain appears to adapt to compensate for the effects of long-term ADHD medication, suggesting why ADHD medication is more effective short-term than it is long-term.

A two-year study of high school football players suggests that concussions are likely caused by many hits over time and not from a single blow to the head, as commonly believed.

Was it right to ban this boy’s assistance dog from school?

Luke Kelly-Melia with his assistance dog Aidan

I was reading over the weekend of the case of the parents of a young boy with cerebral palsy, who have opted to educate their child at home after they were told his assistance dog was not welcome at his primary school. Luke Kelly-Melia who is in sixth class at Knocktemple National School in Virginia, Co Cavan, has been told his golden retriever, Aidan, is not allowed on the school grounds until further notice.

I am not up-to-speed on the full details of this case, but I do know that research in neuroeducation -the brain science of learning shows that the value of a trained child-friendly dog in the classroom  may far outweigh the concerns raised by the School Board of Management.

A 2002 study [“Behavioural effects of the presence of a dog in a classroom,” Anthrozoös 16 (2), 2003], conducted by Kurt Kotrschal and Brita Ortbauer, took place in Vienna.

The research found that having a dog in the classroom actually decreased behavioural extremes, making the diverse group more homogenous. Children were less engaged in loud, conspicuous, or troublesome behaviour. They paid more attention to their teacher, cooperated better, and communicated more intensely with one another. Improvements in social behaviour were more pronounced in boys than in girls, perhaps because girls showed less boisterous, “rough-and-tumble” activity to begin with. The researchers also speculate that the teacher’s authority increased, particularly with respect to certain male students, in the presence of her compliant, obedient dog.

A spokesperson for The Department of Education said it is a “matter for the board of management of each school to develop a policy on whether guide dogs or assistance dogs were allowed in the school, taking account of the needs of all the children in the school”. I do hope the School Board of Management will revisit their decision in respect of Luke and Aidan, as the newspaper article appears to indicate they may do.

Weekly Update: Brain Research

Using a sling or cast after injuring an arm may cause your brain to shift quickly to adjust, according to a study published in the January 17, 2012, print issue of Neurology®. The study found increases in the size of brain areas that were compensating for the injured side, and decreases in areas that were not being used due to the cast or sling.

A  new UC Davis study shows how the brain reconfigures its connections to minimize distractions and take best advantage of our knowledge of situations.

Neuroscientists at Kessler Foundation have documented increased cerebral activation in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) following memory retraining using the modified Story Memory Technique (mSMT).  This is the first study to demonstrate that behavioral interventions can have a positive effect on brain function in people with cognitive disability caused by MS, an important step in validating the clinical utility of cognitive rehabilitation.

A program designed to boost cognition in older adults also increased their openness to new experiences, researchers report, demonstrating for the first time that a non-drug intervention in older adults can change a personality trait once thought to be fixed throughout the lifespan.

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King’s College London have, for the first time, identified the facial expression of anxiety. The facial expression for the emotion of anxiety comprises an environmental scanning look that appears to aid risk assessment. The research was published this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

New research from Uppsala University, Sweden, shows that a specific brain region that contributes to a person’s appetite sensation is more activated in response to food images after one night of sleep loss than after one night of normal sleep. Poor sleep habits can therefore affect people’s risk of becoming overweight in the long run. The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Teenagers are more susceptible to developing disorders like addiction and depression, according to a paper published by Pitt researchers Jan. 16 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Harvard scientists have developed the fullest picture yet of how neurons in the brain interact to reinforce behaviors ranging from learning to drug use, a finding that might open the door to possible breakthroughs in the treatment of addiction.

Virtual reality-enhanced exercise, or “exergames,” combining physical exercise with computer-simulated environments and interactive videogame features, can yield a greater cognitive benefit for older adults than traditional exercise alone, according to a new study published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Sleeping after a traumatic event might lock in bad memories and emotions, a new study has found.

A team of researchers at the MedUni Vienna’s Department of Neurophysiology (Centre for Brain Research) has discovered a previously unknown effect of opioids – that opioids not only temporarily relieve pain, but at the right dose can also erase memory traces of pain in the spinal cord and therefore eliminate a key cause of chronic pain.

 

How social and emotional learning can affect the brain

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson‘s research is focused on cortical and subcortical substrates of emotion and affective disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Using quantitative electrophysiology, positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging to make inferences about patterns of regional brain function, his lab studies normal adults and young children, and those with, or at risk for, affective and anxiety disorders.

A major focus of his current work is on interactions between prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in the regulation of emotion in both normal subjects and patients with affective and anxiety disorders.

In this video Professor Davidson presents his research on how social and emotional learning can affect the brain.